Lawrence J. Levy, a licensed psychologist in Boca Raton (561/206-4286; levypsychology.com), weighs in on anxiety issues and how to deal with what can be debilitating angst.
Is anxiety natural?
Anxiety is the fight or flight system. You’re going to have some anxiety whenever you’re in a situation that causes distress.
When does anxiety become a problem?
When it interferes with your functioning. If you’re on the highway, and you have no anxiety, you’re a dangerous driver. If you have too much anxiety, you can’t drive. So, you need enough to increase your awareness but not so much that you’re not able to focus on the task at hand.
What can happen when we’re too anxious?
You breathe differently, you have skin tingling and butterflies, your heart races and so do your thoughts, so you worry or panic. For example, somebody knows he has a report due in two weeks for his job. If you don’t have any anxiety, you’re not going to get the job done. If you have too much anxiety, you have racing thoughts, panic, and the thought that you’ll never get it done. “If I can’t get this done, I’ll get fired from my job. And if I get fired from my job, my wife will divorce me! If I get divorced, I’ll be living in a cardboard box underneath a bridge!”
What might surprise people about dealing with anxiety?
That you really can control it without drugs. Nobody ever dies from anxiety, even though you feel you might. It can be controlled by your thoughts. There are medications that are useful for anxiety, but most of them are for short-term use—and they are highly addictive. People self-medicate on alcohol and opiates to get rid of anxiety ... and become reliant on those, never learning to overcome the anxiety. I’m a psychologist. We use therapy to treat anxiety.
What can readers do to help themselves?
The first thing they can do is learn how to breathe properly. People who have panic attacks tend to breathe high up in the chest. I [teach my patients] how to breathe deeply and slowly. Become familiar with your internal dialogue—what you tell yourself that maintains the anxiety. Don’t use: “I can’t,” “I shouldn’t,” “always,” “never” ... those words [indicate] that you’re maintaining anxiety. Also, any of these can help: meditation, yoga, prayer and even journaling. If you write out your thoughts, you can keep them from going around in circles.
To continue reading, please pick up a copy of the September/October Boca Raton magazine.